What do the 2015 TIMSS results say to us Parents?

The TIMSS 2015 results were released on the 29 November 2016, but what are they and what do they mean for the common man on the street. What insights do they give to us as parents? What lessons can we derive from them? This blog is my simple attempt to answering these questions whilst celebrating the improvements that have been achieved by our children and the department of basic education.

2015 TIMSS: What Is TIMSS?

TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) is an international assessment of mathematics and science at the fourth and eighth grades that has been conducted every four years since 1995. TIMSS 2015 is the sixth assessment in the TIMSS series monitoring 20 years of trends in educational achievement, together with comprehensive data on students’ contexts for learning mathematics and science. In 2015, 57 countries and 7 benchmarking entities (regional jurisdictions of countries such as states or provinces) participated in TIMSS. In total, more than 580,000 students participated in TIMSS 2015.

The TIMSS 2015 mathematics and science assessments are based on comprehensive frameworks developed collaboratively with the participating countries. For each curriculum area at each grade, the frameworks are organized around two dimensions: a content dimension specifying the content to be assessed and a cognitive dimension specifying the thinking processes to be assessed. The TIMSS assessments contain nearly 800 assessment items, about 200 per grade for each curriculum area. The majority of TIMSS items assess students’ applying and reasoning skills.

TIMSS has the goal of helping countries make informed decisions about how to improve teaching and learning in mathematics and science. With its strong curricular focus and emphasis on policy relevant information about the home, school, and classroom contexts for learning,

TIMSS is a valuable tool that countries can use to evaluate achievement goals and standards and monitor students’ achievement trends in an international context.


South African results for TIMMS 2015:

South Africa is one of the 7 countries that elected to participate in the newly developed TIMSS assessment, a less difficult version of the fourth grade mathematics assessment. Each of these participants gave both the fourth grade assessments in mathematics and science as well as the Numeracy assessment, except Jordan and South Africa that participated in Numeracy only.

We elected that our grade 5 pupils would complete this grade 4 assessment. Thirty-nine countries and the 7 benchmarking participants administered the eighth grade mathematics and science assessments. Botswana and South Africa assessed ninth grade to better match their curriculum and to maintain trend measurement.

South Africa achieved an average score of 376 points in the grade 4 assessments and 372 points for the grade 8 assessments. Which are 242 points and 249 points respectively less than the top performing country which is Singapore. The 2015 TIMSS(Trends In International Mathematics And Science Study) report has shown that we as a country have made slight improvements when we compare the 2011 vs 2015 results, yet we are still far from reaching our desired levels.


The table above indicates an increase of 20 points for the grade 9 pupils that participated in the TIMSS assessments.

Further analysis reflects where the improvements were gained and I must say it seems like we are on the right path.





What can we  do to improve these figures?

Whenever I listen to opinions expressed by parents with regards to the results obtained by the pupils, I find my perplexed by the amount of parents who seem to be under the impression that the department and the teachers are the only people responsible for the results obtained by the pupils.

The assessments conducted by TIMSS show that there is a direct correlation between the results obtained by the pupils with how much home learning resources are available?  The department can’t change these figures, we as parents and the community can change this. How many of us ensure that our children have access to resources such as books and or the internet at home for the sole purpose of increasing mathematics knowledge?




Shouldn’t we be changing this scenario? The South African statistics show that we as society are failing our children. Obviously South Africa has a lot of inequality issues and the literacy levels are still dire, and I agree the government as a whole needs to do more in order to address this. But apart from complaining about this situation, shouldn’t we as society be doing more? Shouldn’t the mobile network service providers be coming to the party and assisting with some sort of internet solutions for our children? Why should our children suffer just because access to internet is not easily available? How do we expect our children to compete on the same level as their counterparts in the world if we do not ensure that they have the same resources?



The other thing that was evident from the TIMSS assessments was the importance of parents spending time with their children on early literacy and numeracy activities. Now we all know that time is a luxury most working parents cannot afford. Between the stresses of having a full time job and the pressures associated with modern living, finding the time to do this is hard. The demands that life can place on us, can be hard at times but surely this does not mean that we have to fail our kids. Surely there are ways we can employ in order to change this. Surely we are better than our parents and can do things differently? My parents rarely helped me with mathematics when I was growing up. They insisted that the mathematics curriculum was different when they were growing up. I understand their views and I have to concur with them the Maths curriculum has changed, but in our modern day life this can no longer be an excuse. I know it sounds like I am not understanding of the pressures that parents face. Its not like I am absolving the department and the teachers of thir responsibilities. All I want to say is that they are not the only ones to blame. Let’s stop with the knee jerk reaction of blaming others. Let’s stop with the victim mentality.  These are our children and they deserve the best from us.  I truly believe that we as parents can help our children develop confidence in mathematics.




These statistics also make it clear why a policy to make grade R compulsory was accepted in 2013, although it has not come into effect.  The department of basic education has done a lot in the way of emphasising the importance of pre-primary education and I think we would be doing grave injustice to our children if we as parents did not acknowledge this importance. I know I am probably stepping on a lot of toes due to the high fees associated with pre-primary education. I know that most parents find them too expensive and an unnecessary expenditure but the looking at these figures shows that the benefits really outweigh the costs. Especially when one considers that most public schools offer grade R classes, so the cost can be drastically reduced.  I would hate to trivialise the issue of pre-primary education because in all honesty I do not have all the facts. All I am saying is that studies have shown that pre-primary education is beneficial for our children.


So obviously I am not writing this blog in order to criticise parents or throw problems at you. All I want to say is that we at Nubian Smarts have developed applications that are meant to help the parents. We believe that the majority of parents want to give their child the best. So we would like to help you achieve this.

How Nubian Smarts Mobile Educational Applications addresses these issues?

  1. The applications are fun and easy for the kid to use.
  2. With the current high costs of data, our educational application can be downloaded via wi-fi, once downloaded the user can access the content offline.
  3. All the content on the Nubian smarts is linked to the CAPS curriculum.
  4. The applications are grade specific – Each grade has its own Mathematics Application.
  5. Parents / Teachers can access progress reports for children’s performance via application or Nubian Smarts Website.
    1. This enables parents / teacher an opportunity to assist the child should they deem it necessary.


  1. TIMSS 2015 International Results in Mathematics
  2. Department of Basic Education.

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